the illustrator’s path

by Javier Espila

“I remember I used to draw all the time as a child”. This is such a cool thing for an artist to say, whereas it means very little when coming from a doctor or a baker. However, as much as those of us who scribble insist on using this phrase in order to feel special, it is, after all something that summarises the childhood of 99% of people.

You see, drawing when you’re a kid is A LOT of fun, until the moment comes when we look up and something explodes in our heads. Our characters don’t look like the ones in our favourite cartoons. Their shape is weird. They’re ALL WRONG. At that point we all throw our pencils out of the window and decide to do something else. All of us? Well, NO, a small group of die hards —amongst which I include myself—continues to generate enough endorphins to keep going, to keep the pencil doodling with a single goal in mind: “TO DRAW WELL”, unaware that they are entering the eternal cave of frustration. “Drawing is fun. I’d love to draw like —insert favourite illustrator here —. I’m going to copy what he does. Damn it, it looks like s**t. I’ll have to start again”.
Those endorphins are doing their own thing and keep you going on a senseless high without rhyme or reason. However, after hundreds of hours of frustration, you get better at copying. The characters start looking like you traced them. It’s the time, you say, I’m going to draw one of MY OWN characters. And then you draw the greatest piece of s**t ever and you hit yourself against the great wall of “I-draw-well-land”.

But no one can stop you. You pick up your broken teeth, and those endorphins — inseparable friends—tell you that everything is cool, man. You copy a couple of Son Gokus to give you strength and you jump into original creations again. Slowly your hand, which had been free-styling until then, starts to obey a little and you start to draw something remotely similar to what is in your head. Full of pride, you show your first genuinely original character to your brother, and he says “It looks like Goku”. Hundreds of pseudo Gokus later, you ask yourself why you can’t create anything remotely different. And so, in an effort of truly being your own true self, you look up and discover an illustrator doing something visually new. Inspired by his creative spirit, you decide to follow his example…by copying everything he does.

For years, originality is conspicuously absent. You feel frustrated and angry because you keep drawing Gokus mixed with Batmans, crossed with the Bruguera school with a bit of —insert your own list here—… A hodgepodge of stuff that anyone can identify. Then, after thirty years searching for that remote fantasy that everyone calls “UNIQUE STYLE”, you stop and wonder where the fun is in all of this. F**k it, you say to yourself, and you just pick up the pencil, you forget about your influences and start to enjoy what you’re doing. So, yeah, what you do looks a bit like this and that, but all together as a whole there’s something that makes it different.

Then you remember all the illustrators that you’ve admired over the years, and you finally realise that they’re not original at all. Its just that you don’t know the artists that they’ve been copying their whole lives.